SPEEDWAY, IN, AUG 16 - With Valentino Rossi moving back to Yamaha, speculation now centers on who will replace him as Nicky Hayden's teammate on the Ducati Marlboro team. Originally it was thought that Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Cal Crutchlow had the inside line - the Englishman was said to have a two-year offer. But now it's a virtual certainty that Andrea Dovizioso, the Italian who sits fourth in the championship with four podium finishes will get the seat. That was essentially confirmed after Crutchlow tweeted that the Ducati is "not avaliable to ride ! So I won't be riding it ... " For his part Hayden didn't express a preference, though he said he believed that Dovi would be a good fit.
But first he spoke of his own future being settled for at least one year, a subject he'd first addressed at last month's Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix.
"Yeah, it's nice to know your future, and I'm definitely happy to be back with Ducati," he said. "I love my team, the guys I work with there, and I believe in the potential. It's not like Ducati has never won before. We won before and, yeah, looking forward to the new partnership with Audi. I know it will be tough to make any real changes in the short term, but it's an exciting time, and hopefully that's going to play out for us both in terms of financial for Ducati, technical terms, a lot of resources there. So that should be something we can hopefully use to our advantage and build on."
Turning to his expected teammate, he said of the rider who replaced him on the Repsol Honda team, "Yeah, if it's Dovi, I think he's probably the best choice out there. He's got good experience coming from me. I'm happy. Spent years at Honda, then now Yamaha, and now come there. I think his experience can be beneficial to our engineers. How he'll go on the Ducati, we'll have to wait and see. Of course, I think one of the good things, Dovi doesn't make a lot of mistakes when he rides. He's pretty precise, and that's important. Because if you make a lot of mistakes on the Japanese bike, when you get on the Ducati, that's just double.
"Well, maybe not double," he said after the laughter subsided, "but is more. So, yeah, hopefully he can bring some knowledge and help us be a good bike if he does come. And I look forward to having a strong teammate."
Asked for his opinion on how Dovi would fare, the only rider to have serial success on the bike said he had "No idea."
"People have been saying for years one rider's style is similar to another rider's style and suit the Ducati," Repsol Honda's Casey Stoner, who won the 2007 MotoGP World Championship for Ducati, said, "but I think it's nothing to do with style. It's pride, personally. However you think a bike should be ridden, you basically have to ride it how it wants to be ridden. You know, you can go to other manufacturers and say that's how I did it here and it worked, and why isn't it working there? But I think it's just about pride, and you need to give that up and ride it the way it needs to be."
Hayden said he didn't expect big changes to the motorcycle this late in the season.
"We have a few things. After Brno, we're testing in Misano, where we can try some stuff," he said. "To do big steps during the season is tough, but I do think Mugello was clearly our best result -- well, not the result but the race was the best race of the year. So, yeah, it's tough, but sure, I think we can do better than sixth place."
Rossi has one podium finish, a second in the rain at Le Mans, but trails Hayden by two points in the championship. Hayden clearly puts everything into every race, while Rossi isn't as willing to take risks. Still, they make a good team. And having Rossi on the team should have helped accelerate the development of the Ducati Desmosedici GP12, though it doesn't seem to have.
Would Hayden miss Rossi, with whom he also spent his first year in MotoGP in 2003?
"Yeah. Truthfully, yeah," he said. "We've had a good relationship. I'm not like going to be in tears over it, you know, and just -- but, yeah, I mean, you know, as great as it would have been to see Vale at the front on the Ducati, it just hasn't at the moment happened. So, you know, move on and see who my new teammate will be. But I enjoyed being teammates with him.
"Sure, we had some -- I don't know about a lot of good times, but I enjoyed being teammates with him and definitely somebody I respect a lot. It's good to see him back staying in MotoGP and with the new challenge. And, you know, as good as it would have been for the sport him winning on the Ducati, him at the front on anything I think we'll all benefit from."